European Football: What to look forward to this weekend

Defending league champions Bayern Munich, Barcelona and PSG will look to bounce back from the previous weekend's poor showings, while Juventus embarks on a journey for a record ninth Scudetto.

Barcelona star Lionel Messi might have a bit-part role in the next match against Real Betis.   -  Getty Images

Serie A is back this weekend as Juventus goes in search of an ninth Scudetto in a row, but will have to deal with the absence of manager Maurizio Sarri against Parma who is undergoing treatment for pneumonia.

Meanwhile, Barcelona looks to bounce from its opening day defeat to Athletic club and will be boosted by the return of its captain Lionel Messi when it hosts Real Betis.

The speculation around Neymar continues as French champion Paris Saint-Germain will look for a return to winning ways against Toulouse. For Bundesliga champion Bayern Munich, the opening day 2-2 draw against Hertha Berlin may have come as an early wake up call as a tough trip to Schalke awaits it on matchday 2.

Returning Messi a reason to cheer for Barca

Barcelona’s shock opening day defeat to Athletic Bilbao, coupled with injuries to Ousmane Dembele and Luis Suarez, means the team’s fortunes up front depend solely on Antoine Greizmann, who is still adjusting to life in Blaugrana colours.

Lionel Messi is just returning from a calf injury that has forced him to miss the whole of pre-season and the half-fit Argentine could be rushed back into the team that takes on Real Betis on Sunday.

Can Messi’s return boost Barca’s morale or is he being rushed into a game where the opponent’s physical style could hurt him, and the team, in the long run?

The Madrid giants both started the season on a positive note. Both Real and Atletico coped with being one man down, dominated their games and took all three points — one doing so with its new recruits while the other turning to a player who has been on the verge of leaving the team.

Atletico Madrid forward Joao Felix joined Diego Simeone's Atletico from Benfica in a €126million move last month.   -  Getty Images

 

Wonderkid Joao Felix filled in Greizmann’s boots and how. His movement and pace added a new dimension to Diego Simeone’s attack this season.

READ | Zidane challenges Bale 'to show how good he is'

Zinedine Zidane, on the other hand, was forced to turn to old horse Gareth Bale following Eden Hazard’s injury and the Welshman’s match-winning performance seems to have reminded Zidane of his abilities.

“The dynamics are changing, things are changing. From now on, I will rely on him,” said the French coach after the game.

Another three points for either side this weekend will give it an early advantage in the title race against Barcelona.

 

Juve begins title defence without Sarri

Looking for a record ninth Serie A title, Juventus begins its campaign at Parma. Things are a little different at the Old Lady this season, with a managerial shuffle that promises a change in style.

Maurizio Sarri has replaced Massimiliano Allegri, but merely winning the league will not be enough for a team that’s been ahead of all teams in Italy for eight years now.

Money has been splashed across the pitch and reinforcements, both young and veteran, are expected to help it to its first Champions League success since 1996.

Juventus starts the season without Sarri however. He will miss the games against Parma and his former club Napoli with pneumonia. The 60-year-old is still overseeing training.

READ | Serie A 2019-20: The five best signings ahead of the new season

Behind it are Napoli and Inter Milan, waiting to make the most any turmoil in Turin that Sarri’s arrival brings.

Like Sarri, Antonio Conte last coached at Chelsea, and along with three-times Champions League winner Ancelotti, Serie A have a world class coaching setup this season — with all of them having the added advantage of being Italian.

Inter boss Antonio Conte has added Romelu Lukaku to his striking options for the upcoming season.   -  Getty Images

 

Inter’s search for its first league title since 2010 has seen it turn to Conte, who has also been given money to spend.

Atletico Madrid defender Diego Godin has also arrived along with Italian midfielders Stefano Sensi and Nicolo Barella but the signing of Romelu Lukaku from Manchester United made the most noise.

If it also adds Alexis Sanchez before the transfer window slams shut, the league title could finally move out of Turin.

As the sole survivor of a coaching shuffle at the top of the table, Carlo Ancelotti could have the best chance to end Napoli’s 30-year wait for the Serie A title.

The 60-year-old, who has won titles in Europe’s five biggest leagues, has won the Serie A before — with AC Milan in 2004.

The veteran coach, who insists that he has learned from his “transitional” first season, has bolstered his squad with the arrival of defender Kostas Manolas, midfielder Elif Elmas and winger Hirving Lozano.

“We drew back the arrow, now we are ready to fire,” he warned.

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Napoli has not won the title since 1990 and opens at Fiorentina on Saturday while Antonio Conte’s Inter Milan is at home to promoted Lecce on Monday.

For AC Milan, a fifth-placed finish last season saw the departure of Gennaro Gattuso. Marco Giampaolo, who takes over as the coach, brings a style of play that’s similar to what Ancelotti used at the club in his Champions League winnings campaigns in the Italian capital.

With the club not having to juggle its league campaign with European commitments, a return to the top four — and the Champions League — could be on the cards.

 

Dortmund out to capitalise on Bayern's early slip

Defending champion Bayern Munich will be boosted by the its new loan arrivals Ivan Perisic and Philippe Coutinho for its tough away trip to Schalke on Saturday.

Perisic, who made his name in the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund and Vfl Wolfsburg, is back in Germany after his four-year stint in Italy on loan from Inter Milan. Coutinho arrives on a one-year deal from FC Barcelona after failing to lock down a spot in its first team.

Coutinho’s arrival has certainly lifted the mood in the Bayern camp which suffered a German Super Cup loss to Borussia Dortmund and drew the Bundesliga opener at home to Hertha Berlin. However, according to manager Niko Kovac, Coutinho isn’t fit enough to play the full 90 minutes but might find a place on the bench at Gelsenkirchen.

Philippe Coutinho presents interesting options to Bayern Munich, which needs a playmaker after the departure of James Rodriguez.   -  Getty Images

 

Perisic will be available to start against Schalke after he served his one-match suspension in the opening fixture, which he carried over from Serie A.

Borussia Dortmund has set the pace already with a thumping 5-1 win over Augsburg with Paco Alcacer, Jadon Sancho and Marco Reus among the goals. New signing Julian Brandt marked his debut for Die Schwarzgelben with a goal.

READ | Coutinho to Bayern Munich: Elber, Lucio and the club's best Brazilians

Lucien Favre’s men have a relatively easy fixture as they travel to the newly promoted Cologne on Friday evening.

Other title hopeful RB Leipzig hosts Eintracht Frankfurt while Bayer Leverkusen will be away to Fortuna Dusseldorf.

 

Neymar PSG return on the cards?

Lyon has started the season on fire with Memphis Depay and Moussa Dembele combining to deadly effect. It is currently topping the table after 3-0 and 6-0 wins over AS Monaco and Angers in the opening two matches.

Memphis and Dembele have three goals apiece as the team has signalled its intent under new coach Sylvinho, despite losing key players Nabir Fekir, Tanguy Ndombele and Ferland Mendy during the off-season.

Lyon will be aiming to maintain its winning start when it makes the trip to Montpellier on Monday evening.

READ | Neymar leaving PSG not possible without replacement, says Tuchel

Reigning champion Paris Saint-Germain appears to be distracted with the ongoing saga with superstar forward Neymar, who is angling for a move away from the French capital.

Neymar has been linked with a move from PSG, but progress has seemingly been slow amid links to Barca and Real Madrid.   -  Getty Images

 

After a 3-0 win on the opening weekend, it suffered a shock 2-1 defeat at Rennes last weekend. A ruptured ankle ligament has sidelined Neymar from PSG’s first two matches but manager Thomas Tuchel is keen to introduce the fit-again Brazilian for the visit of Toulouse on Sunday.

Neymar will need to put in a good show at home to appease the supporters who have turned on him in recent weeks.

Nice, which has two wins in two, has a difficult home assignment against Marseille, currently placed 17th with a point.